On the back of a win over St. Mary’s, Bears head to Palm Springs

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On the gridiron, the consensus is that the odds are astronomically low. The top players in college football routinely struggle to succeed at the high level of play that the pros demand — take legendary college running back Reggie Bush or, more recently, the Browns’ Baker Mayfield. Meanwhile on the baseball diamond, games between college and MLB teams have actually been played. Perhaps unsurprisingly, pro teams went 63-4 from 2009 to 2019 even while trotting out minor league players.

The point? The odds of an intercollege upset are far, far better than the odds of a college team beating the pros. And as Cal softball gears up for games against high-flying No. 18 Missouri and Auburn, it’s confident that it can swipe wins against the nation’s best.

“I think it’s exciting to play good teams that are usually ranked in the top 25 in the country and it kind of lets you know exactly where you stand,” said head coach Diane Ninemire. “Sometimes I think you play up to your competition, so this will be a test for us to see how much we can push ourselves and embrace the competition.”

The Bears are coming off a win over St. Mary’s on Feb. 19, their third victory over the Gaels on the year after besting them twice at the Fresno State Tournament. Unlike the previous two matchups, though, this contest was far from comfortable for Cal. True freshman D’Asha Saiki showed up in the clutch to swing a 5-4 nailbiter the Bears’ way.

Cal staked itself to an early lead in the first after Saiki’s and Mikayla Coelho’s back-to-back knocks drove in 3, but the Gaels would chip away with runs in the third and fifth to cut the lead to 1.

Pitcher Alexandra Perez came out sharp after being roughed up in her past two outings in Fresno, but late troubles reared their head after she held St. Mary’s to 2 runs in five innings. Even after Cal strung together an outfield relay to cut down the tying run at the plate, another walk spelled the end for Perez in the sixth. With runners on first and second, Chloe Romero promptly served up a 2-run double out of the bullpen — both runs were charged to Perez as the Gaels took a 4-3 lead.

The Bears headed into the seventh inning needing to score, and their bats came alive as a stream of singles started the frame. Lauren Espalin’s bunt hit loaded the bases with only one out and set the stage for Saiki, who laced a 2-run base knock into right that would put Cal up for good. The true freshman went 3 for 4 on the day with 3 RBI.

Further heroics from Saiki and others might be needed this upcoming weekend as the Bears travel to Palm Springs for the Mary Nutter Classic. Cal’s schedule includes games against Auburn, No. 18 Missouri, Nebraska and New Mexico across the course of three days.

“This is one of the top tournaments in the country,” Ninemire said. “All the players that go to this tournament … look to have a good weekend in front of large crowds, so I’m hoping the environment will inspire them to maybe play beyond what they think they’re capable of playing right now.”

The Bears start the tournament on Friday against Auburn — first pitch will be at 12:30 p.m.

Chanun Ong covers softball. Contact him at [email protected].